The Florida Panthers have underachieved in fantasy and reality, but have remained in the Stanley Cup Playoff hunt long enough to get their top two forwards back from long-term injuries.
Center Aleksander Barkov and left wing Jonathan Huberdeau have been cleared to play against the Anaheim Ducks on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET; FS-F, PRIME, NHL.TV) in Florida's final game before a five-day break. Barkov has missed the past 15 games with a back injury, and Huberdeau will be making his season debut after sustaining a lower-body injury in the preseason. Huberdeau and Barkov finished 64th and 79th respectively in Yahoo's performance-based rankings last season.
Barkov (C, 72 percent owned) and Huberdeau (LW, 52 percent owned) play together on the top line and first power-play unit with Jaromir Jagr and are must-add players in all fantasy formats.
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After a slow start (five points in his first 12 games), Barkov came on strong with 22 points, a plus-6 rating and 65 shots on goal in his next 24 games before being injured. Among players with at least 100 games played during the past two seasons, Barkov is tied for 22nd in points per game (0.84).
Huberdeau was tied for 12th among left wings in points last season with 59 in 76 games, and was one of six Panthers to finish with at least 50 points (others: Jagr, Jussi Jokinen, Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Reilly Smith). The chemistry on Florida's top two lines was a huge reason the Panthers won the Atlantic Division.
This season has seen injuries to Barkov, Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad blindside Florida's previously dominant secondary scoring group. The Panthers have been fortunate to have unheralded forward Jonathan Marchessault (C/LW, 44 percent owned; 123rd in Yahoo) provide consistent offense when healthy, regardless of linemates. Marchessault has 32 points in 44 games and has not gone more than two games without a point.
How will this development affect the rest of the Panthers lineup? It should at least get their secondary scoring and power play back to respectability. The Panthers' offense (2.83 goals per game, eighth in 2015-16) has dipped considerably (2.33, 26th), and Florida's power-play percentage has been even worse (15.2, 25th) than last season (16.9, 23rd).
Having Jagr, Barkov, Huberdeau together with defenseman Keith Yandle on the power play for the first time all season and under new coach Tom Rowe offers hope for a second-half bounce-back. Yandle, brought in to improve the power play, has 11 power-play points but is barely among Yahoo's top 150 overall players (148th). Aaron Ekblad (182nd), is in the midst of an underachieving season with 15 points and a minus-18 in 51 games, averages 3:00 of power-play time per game and should also benefit from the return of Barkov and Huberdeau.
In addition to adding either returning forward if available in your fantasy league, buying low on Yandle or Ekblad (T-14th with 161 SOG) via trade could pay huge dividends.
Jagr, who turns 45 on Feb. 15, has been the Panthers' fantasy MVP and will move from a line with Bjugstad and Jared McCann to the right side of Barkov and Huberdeau. Trocheck should remain with Smith and Jokinen at even strength and will likely be with Marchessault on the second power-play unit.